Google to unveil online music service Tuesday

Music Beta by Google has coming out party at annual I/O conference

Google confirmed late last night that it is set to launch an online music service at its annual Google I/O developers conference Tuesday.

A Google spokeswoman told Computerworld the company is unveiling what's been dubbed Music Beta by Google during the opening day of the conference, which is being held in San Francisco.

The news will answer months of speculation that Google has been working on a cloud-based music service. Industry analysts have long speculated that Google could be developing a social network, and that music could play a big role in it.

"Certainly, this could be social because you could share what you're listening to with all your friends," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. "This certainly could be used as a first step to Google starting a social network."

The Google spokeswoman did not elaborate on what the music service, but the Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported on Monday that Google planned to unveil a music service this week. The report speculated that the service would resemble Amazon's Cloud Player , a cloud-based service announced in late March.

Google's music service is designed to enable users to upload songs and then stream them onto smartphone or PCs, according to the Journal, which added that Google hasn't secured licenses from the four major recorded-music companies, so the service would not allow people to download music.

If Google does release a music service, it would compete with Amazon's new service, as well as, to a lesser extent, with other industry players like Apple's hugely popular iTunes and Rhapsody offerings.

"This competes with all of the [online music services] in many ways," said Enderle. "You're only going to listen to one song at a time no matter what service you're using. This is much more limited but I would expect it to be a hell of a lot cheaper. You're limited to whatever music you have access to. You wouldn't have access to a huge repository."

Speculation about a Google music service began popping up a few months ago.

Rumors increased late in March when reports hit that the company had been internally testing a music service, dubbed Google Music. The news came from a developer at the XDA Developers forum who noted online that he stumbled upon a Google music service, then called Google Music, when he fired up the Honeycomb version of Google's Android operating system on a smartphone.

Analysts have said Google music service is not likely to be the social platform that the industry has been anticipating. However, it could be a building block of one.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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